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Howard Dearing Johnson

Founder of Howard Johnson

Howard Dearing Johnson Howard Johnson is widely regarded as one of the first to introduce franchising in the restaurant industry. Johnson also developed the concept of a uniform system of operations that provided consistency in the rapid expansion of his ice cream shops, restaurants and lodging properties.

Johnson began his hospitality empire in 1925 in Wollaston, Massachusetts, in a small patent medicine store and soda fountain that he inherited from his father. Soon after taking over the store, he revived its sales by purchasing a recipe for ice cream that contained twice the common amount of butterfat. This new ice cream caused sales to skyrocket. An admitted ice cream fanatic, Johnson spent a great deal of time developing new ice cream flavors to feature at his soda fountain, and before long he had begun to make and sell other easy-to-prepare food items like sandwiches, hot dogs and fried clams. Three years later, the first Howard Johnson restaurant was born.

A family friend, Reginald Sprague, wanted to use the Howard Johnson name to promote sales at a new restaurant he was opening. Sprague agreed to buy all ice cream and food products from Johnson, and to allow Johnson to set the standards for all foods served at the restaurant. Johnson believed new inventions such as the automobile would change the face of America, and he wanted to be the one to provide future American travelers with a chain of restaurants that would offer “good food at sensible prices.” Johnson then signed similar agreements with other hopeful entrepreneurs, and by 1940 there were 135 company-owned and franchised restaurants along the East Coast. Most of the restaurants were located on major highways, and their now-famous bright orange roofs made them highly visible to passing motorists. To support the needs of his restaurants, Johnson developed a central commissary concept, enabling customers at all properties to be served the same quality food.

By 1954, Johnson had 400 restaurants. It was at this time that he realized the ideal complement to his nationwide foodservice operation was the development of lodging properties that shared the same consistent quality and service. Thus in 1954, he franchised his first motor lodge in Savannah, Georgia. The franchise agreements enabled Johnson to quickly expand his lodging properties to tourist markets as well as to business travelers who needed meeting and banquet facilities.

When he ceded control of the company to his son, Howard Brennan Johnson, the father’s advice was to “make it grow,” and that’s exactly what he did. Under the younger Johnson’s direction, the company’s restaurant and lodging properties grew across the country and beyond. He took the company public in 1961 and it was eventually acquired and globally marketed by The Blackstone Group’s subsidiary HFS, Inc.

Today, Howard Johnson properties are still found across the world.